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Fishing holes need Big River replenishing

By early February there had been very little interest in fishing in the area where I live. One of the main reasons is that most of the lakes, blue holes and bayous behind the main Mississippi River levee are at extremely low stages because they did not get any flood water in the spring of 2000. Some of them even dried up.

One such lake on the Burke Club property, known as McWilliams Old River, is a prime example. It dried up completely very early in the summer and the lake bed was planted with milo and soybeans for feeding the area's heavy populations of deer and turkey.

The only way to return this usually fine crappie and bass lake is for a spring flood on the Big River to overflow the banks or enter the lake through some very ingenious large iron culverts that have been installed at the river's edge.

The culverts permit fresh water to inundate interior lakes even when the river does not reach flood stage. They have been the salvation of quite a few such bodies of water behind the levee.

The fishing fraternity is hoping for enough water this spring to at least fill the lakes with fresh water, to say nothing of restocking them with abundant game fish that come from the Big River itself.

Some of my fishing friends scoff at the idea that large numbers of game fish enter the lakes through the large pipes, but I can assure you that quite a lot of them do get into our lakes and blue holes in this manner.

I realize that not nearly as many fish are introduced into dry and low-water lakes as would be the case if the river overflowed its banks and covered the enter area, but you do get a decent supply of new fish if your entry pipes are reasonably large.

In most cases these entry pipes are 30 to 36 inches in diameter and allow a lot of new fish to enter.

I hasten to add that a real flood that covers the entire area does a better job of restocking. The Mississippi River is full of game fish that find new homes during floods in the lakes, blue holes and bayous.

I used to be a bit leery of the fish populations in the Big River, but I learned a lesson about this back during the Great Flood of 1937. I was then a very young man working for the U.S. Corps of Engineers, helping to run levels on the levee. My team was camped in a house in the town of Rena Lara, Miss.

A friend, C.A. Lewis, who lived there then was a commercial fisherman on the river. During the 1937 flood he set a huge net in the water coming in from the main river where the Corps had blown an old levee to reduce pressure on the main levee.

I had the good fortune to go with him and his helper one morning to raise the net. Believe it or not, when they finally got the net up enough to handle it, it was chockfull of largemouth bass. As I recall, not a single rough fish like buffalo or carp was in the net.

Because netting game fish was illegal, C.A. and his helper (a black man known only as Peg) dumped back into the river every one of those bass, except five or six nice ones they gave me for a fish fry. (I am sure the statute of limitations has expired and that none of us involved in this netting of game fish will be prosecuted.)

We badly need water in our lakes, but we also hope and pray that it will not require a major flood that would do much damage to hunting club roads and make turkey hunting very difficult. We wait and see.

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